April 1, 2017
On April 17th (Boston Monday), former US marathon great Ryan Hall will become the first man to officially take a shot at breaking the 2-hour barrier in the marathon. However, Hall will not be lining up on the streets of Boston, nor will he be running on a Formula One course in Milan. Instead, he’ll be making his attempt at history at the Viking Skate Country roller rink in Redding, California, wearing a pair of Heelys brand skate shoes.
Through a press release Hall said, “I caught the running bug again while doing the World Marathon Challenge (7 marathons on 7 continents in 7 days) this winter and couldn’t wait to figure out my next running adventure. It wasn’t until early last month when I read about Nike’s new ‘spring plate’ running shoe for their Breaking2 project that I figured out what that adventure would be. I want to become the first man to run faster than 2-hours in the marathon, and I believe that the Heely skate shoe will give me the best chance to do accomplish this dream.”
Hall’s long-time sponsor Asics has graciously agreed to let Hall wear Heely’s in this one historic race. “Ryan has been a great ambassador for us over the years and we know it’s his dream to be the first man under 2:00. As a brand, we aren’t interested in creating such a high-performance /gimmicky shoe as we think it’s dangerous,” said Asics CEO Motoi Oyama. “Our research indicates that in 10 years every four hour marathoner will be able to run 2:30 with shoes like that but that means the Kenyans will be able to run at 20 mph which really could lead to catastrophic injuries if they trip at a water station. Our legal department isn’t comfortable with the amount of liability that we’d be exposed to.”
Technological Advances Or Unfair Assistance?
What classifies as a legitimate marathon mark has got a lot more complicated in 2017. First, we had the announcement that a Nike-sponsored attempt at the sub-2 hour marathon would be made this spring by Olympic champion Eliud Kipchoge, two-time Boston Marathon champion Lelisa Desisa and world half-marathon record holder Zersenay Tadese. However, the announcement came with the caveat that the mark would not be record eligible, but no details were given as to why. Would it because of pacemaking, illegal shoes, some other form of assistance or a combination of all three?
Then, in early March, we received some more insight into Nike’s new “sub-2” shoes, the Vaporflys, which reportedly use some sort of “spring plate” which claims to improve running economy by 4%. The new technology has sparked controversy over whether the shoes are providing an unfair advantage with some questioning the performances of Nike athletes Galen Rupp, Shalane Flanagan and Amy Cragg who wore the shoes in Rio and at the US Olympic Marathon Trials and sports scientist Ross Tucker going so far to say the shoes should be banned.
Now, all-time US great Ryan Hall will be trying to break the 2-hour marathon barrier in what is essentially half shoe, half roller skate. If you are unfamiliar with the Heely skate shoe, check out the video embedded below. From the Heelys.com: “Heelys are patented products that feature a removable wheel located in the heel, transforming the shoes into stealth skates and giving users the freedom to seamlessly transition from walking or running to skating by shifting their weight to their heel.”
Given the unorthodox running technology he will use, some are dismissing Hall’s record attempt as illegitimate, but when we reached out to him for comment, Hall defended his plans. “Sure, the shoes I’m wearing have wheels in them, but Nike’s Vaporflys have springs in theirs, so I think my record will be just as legitimate as whatever Kipchoge can do. I’m wheeling while they’re running on two miniature Pogo sticks. It’s really shades of grey at this point,” said Hall. “When I ran 2:04, I had a 20 mph wind at my back. What are you going to do? Outlaw everything including Mother Nature?”
Lawsuits On The Horizon?
While Hall’s announcement was met with emotions ranging from excitement to bemusement from most of the running community, there was nothing but anger from the Nike camp. Nike’s Global Director of Athletics John Capriotti said the following in a released statement, “This so-called record attempt by Ryan Hall is nothing more than a publicity stunt aimed to undermine our own sub-2 hour efforts. We are currently considering our legal options and may seek a court order to halt Hall’s run.”
However, an insider told us that Nike is actually trying to force Hall to sign a contract against his will and have him make his sub-2 hour attempt in Nike gear. The anonymous insider said, “Nike doesn’t care if it’s Hall or Kipchoge, if they’re clean or dirty, if they do it in shoes with wheels, springs or rocket boosters, they just want whoever goes sub-2 first to be wearing a ‘Swoosh.'”
Asked to comment on Nike’s talk of legal action, Heelys CEO Karen Murray claimed their record attempt was completely separate from Nike’s. Murray said, “We’ve actually been wanting to get in on the running shoe market for a long time. Our sub-2 project, which we call ‘Rolling2’, is at least two years in development and we had already yielded a prototype before Nike even made their announcement. Also, we’re so confident in our product that we didn’t even need to go to East Africa to recruit for our sub-2 challenge. Our shoes are so good that even a white guy can do it.”
Murray revealed that this isn’t the first time they’ve butted heads with Nike as they were one of the companies interested in sponsoring USATF back in 2014, but Nike cornered USATF into signing a 23-year no-bid contract. “We were prepared to offer USATF a hefty sponsorship deal, but Nike made sure our offer never even made it to the table,” said Murray.
The Elite Running Community Reacts
Getting an earful from the shoe company executives is never surprising, but we were much more interested to hear what other pros think of Hall’s announcement. Someone who surprisingly wasn’t fussed at all about it was Eliud Kipchoge himself. Asked if he was worried Hall would beat him to the historic 2-hour mark Kipchoge scoffed and said, “If Hall couldn’t break 2-hours on a downhill course with a tornado at his back at Boston 2011, then two little wheels aren’t going to help him either.” We also reached out to Kipchoge’s fellow Breaking2 teammates, but Lilesa had no comment and Tadese started to say something, but stopped halfway through.
On the American front, Meb Keflezighi was full of praise for Hall. “Ryan is a dear friend and I think it’s admirable that’ he’s still going after goals and dreams even in retirement. Personally, when I hang ’em up I don’t think I’ll have the energy for any of that, but then again, I’m 41.”
Asked what he thought about Hall’s strange new footwear choice Meb laughed and said, “Hey, I’m sponsored by a company that made their name in shoes that use Velcro instead of laces. Who am I to judge?”